When milk’s involved, magic happens. We’re partnering with Milk Life to learn all about the essential role the farm-fresh beverage plays in elevating everyday recipes—and sharing recipes, tools, and tips for incorporating milk’s rich and smooth texture into wholesome at-home cooking. Read up here.
This past Christmas, my father gave my mother and me each a heavy cast-iron popover pan, Craigslist finds he’d been seasoning in secret on the grill so we wouldn’t find them. We made a batch of popovers—my first popover ever—right away, watching the milky batter leap up in the hot pan and gasping, burning our fingers as we tore them open to catch the puff of steam inside and gasping, gasping the sort of gasps that children make when they see puppies or Ferris wheels or after-school snacks.
I say it all the time: Cooking is magic. Magic! It is creation, it is transformation, it is fire, it is drama. The popover takes this magic quite literally; the batter seems almost a living thing, an embodiment of the power of dairy, rising so high due only to the eggs, the wet, milky batter turning to steam, and its almost-screaming desire to get far away from the hot butter in the bottom of the pan. Your first proper popover is enough to make you a believer—in magic and in popovers. They are a very gleeful food and a very comforting one. And because they come together so quickly, with just about 25 minutes in a very hot oven, you may begin to think of them as the sort of thing you throw together just because the fancy strikes you, just a quick anytime or after-school snack next to a glass of milk.
A popover is a bit like Yorkshire pudding or a Dutch baby pancake: a loose, eggy, milky batter poured into a hot, generously buttered pan. (Yorkshire puddings are usually made with beef drippings instead of butter; Dutch babies are made in standard round cast iron pans and cut into wedges for serving.) The result is a mostly hollow pastry with crisp sides, a slightly custardy middle, and a top that looks like a hot air balloon rising higher and higher. And just like any other pancake, they welcome customization—herbs and spices, a shower of grated cheese, a touch of sweetness. Or not: They’re delicious and, arguably, perfect at their plainest, 4-ingredient, milk-packed selves.
To make them, you need only roughly equal parts all-purpose flour, whole milk, and beaten eggs, plus a touch of melted butter and a touch more for the pan. (About 1 1/4 cups of everything—except butter; start with 2 tablespoons for the batter and one for the pan—will get you to 12 generously-sized popovers.) And the whole process couldn’t be easier: Put everything into a bowl and mix it together really well while the oven and your buttered pan preheat to 425°F. That’s it. Spoon batter into the hot cups of the pan, about ⅔ of the way up the sides, and you’re ready to bake, which you should do for about 20 minutes at 425°F and another 10 to 15 minutes at 375°F.
And you don’t absolutely need a popover pan, which is just like a muffin tin though with slightly deeper cups and straight sides to encourage the pastry’s ascent. While they’re fun to have (and if you’re a popover FANATIC, you might consider seeking one out—check thrift shops, vintage stores, and on Etsy or eBay for one of the old-school cast iron ones), you can get away just fine with a trusty muffin tin.
A few tips for achieving lofty, airy, perfect popovers:
- You’ll need the batter to be at room temperature if you want them to really pop, so either start with room-temp ingredients or let the batter rest for half an hour or so on the counter before you bake.
- Do! Not! Open! the oven door while the popovers are baking, or you risk a collapse. Keep an eye on them through the oven door, and trust your nose.
- You can freeze any leftovers and reheat them in a 350°F-or-so oven—or your can tear leftovers up and make them into bread pudding. (This is reason enough to ensure there are leftovers.)
- Set the popover pan or muffin tin on a baking sheet first—this will make it easier to get the popovers out of the oven once baked. Preheat the whole apparatus together.
- To keep them extra-crisp, poke the bottoms with a toothpick or a slender paring knife once you remove them from the pan, which will let the steam escape.
And here are a few ways to fuss with a basic recipe:
- Add a small handful of finely chopped herbs. Chives (or thinly sliced scallions) would be dreamy—as would fresh rosemary or thyme or even tarragon.
- Or a little finely grated cheese. Popovers will accept a small amount of nearly any kind of cheese you can grate or crumble. Think cheddar, pecorino, ricotta salata, blue cheese…
- Or any of those other small blendable things. Citrus zest! Coarsely ground black pepper! A wee bit of prepared horseradish or mustard! A zip of fresh nutmeg! You know. Just keep whatever you’re adding on the smaller and lighter side; heavier things, like chopped fresh fruit or too much cheese, could add too much moisture to the batter and/or prevent it from rising.
- Swap the butter in the tin for bacon fat. (Yes, this would be a very good opportunity to add minced chives and a little blue cheese to the batter!)
- Substitute a few tablespoons of cocoa powder for some of the flour. If my base measurement is 1 1/4 cups, I’d use 1 cup flour and 1/4 cup cocoa. Add a teaspoon or two of sugar to the batter, too. Or make them Mexican chocolate popovers by adding a shake of cinnamon and chili powder to the mix!
- Or use whole wheat flour for as much as half the flour.
- Just before adding the batter, sprinkle the cups thoroughly with sugar or cinnamon sugar or grated cheese (dry cheeses like pecorino or Parmesan only).
cup all-purpose flour
cup cocoa powder
teaspoon kosher salt
tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and separated
cups whole milk
Make magic with milk this fall. We’re partnering with Milk Life to learn all about milk and the incredible things cows can do—and arming you with recipes, tools, and tips for making use of milk’s superpowers while we’re at it. Have a look at just how essential its seat at the table is here.